Don’t be fooled – we’ve just seen the last WACA Test

Geoff Lemon Columnist

By Geoff Lemon, Geoff Lemon is a Roar Expert

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    It seemed fitting that international cricket should exit the WACA with a comedy of errors. Make no mistake, we’ve just seen its final Test.

    On the fifth day of the Ashes Test, after abnormal sky-torrents had saturated Perth since the previous afternoon, the WACA ground staff put on a comedy of errors.

    It started early, when the large pitch cover took off in the wind and concussed the head groundsman, Matt Page.

    Video of the moment shows Page being utterly wiped out by a mass of wet tarpaulin, while umpire Blocker Wilson had to use all of his Jurassic Park frame to protect the fleeing elfin form of Joseph Edward Root.

    The slow-motion recreation is beautiful, like a scene out of Dante’s Peak. The curator was a sufficiently minor character to be culled halfway.

    The only true casualty was Blocker’s umbrella, which ended the encounter about as intact as my pre-series opinions on Shaun Marsh.

    Later, men aimed leaf-blowers at a soggy patch on the pitch. Anxious umpires hovered, the captains came and went.

    Another leaf-blower joined, then another. Short ones and long ones, kneeling in a circle as though at some horticulturalist shrine. Then the big guns showed up, guys with Ghostbusters packs mounted on their backs. Don’t cross the streams.

    “How did the pitch get wet?” people would ask. Then it would start raining, and the groundsmen would stare at each other for a while, then run around in a panic. Answers falling from the sky.

    After what seemed like minutes, someone would get the hessian covering down. Then finally the small plastic one.

    The large cover would unroll from the truck, then immediately start gusting again. Attendants would grab at its corners and nearly be carried off.

    It was like watching a terribly choreographed grade prep dance recital. Normally rain delays are dull affairs, but this was a slapstick delight.

    The poor buggers would battle the thing down, peg it out, and then the rain would stop. They would pack up the tarps, get the blowers back out, and then another shower would fall.

    Commentators were genuinely offering the excuse that the ground staff had never had to deal with rain before. While Perth has a dry climate, the phenomenon of water falling from the sky is not entirely unknown.

    Morning became lunch, became afternoon, and all the while about 11 people wandered around on the pitch, on a good length for the right-hander facing at the River End.

    Remember the furore when Shahid Afridi had a little twinkle-toe twirl on the Faisalabad track? Here we had umpires, captains, groundsmen, a physio, the bus driver, and a stand-up comedian.

    Finally, the umpires had had enough. Play began. First ball to the newly named Wet End, and Josh Hazlewood landed the ball right in the damp patch, had it rise about six inches off the pitch, and shoot through to bowl Jonny Bairstow.

    Australian bowler Josh Hazlewood

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    The whole show seemed symbolically appropriate given the ground’s broader mismanagement the last couple of decades.

    In the 1980s, the WACA was poised to become a blue-chip venue. The light towers were installed, AFL and cricket shared the calendar, and Perth was booming.

    Then football went to Subiaco. Re-laying the wicket square killed its pace. Renovating the ground made it too small for AFL, while no one thought to arrange deals with rugby or soccer.

    A bigger redevelopment funded by apartment buildings was worth hundreds of millions, but the plans vanished leaving only $8 million in debt.

    When ABC Grandstand’s Gerard Whateley interviewed the WACA boss Christina Matthews during the fifth-day delays, he gave her three opportunities to signal any intention of preserving international cricket at the ground.

    “That will come down to Cricket Australia’s scheduling,” came one reply. Well, yes. Will you be hungry at midday? That will come down to whether I’ve had any lunch.

    To Whateley’s second attempt, Matthews essentially acknowledged that the ground she runs isn’t good enough.

    “At this stage, we’ll be working on what’s best for cricket fans in WA, not what’s best for the ground,” was one line. “We’ve got to be able to say hand on heart that we want the best cricket at the best ground for the fans and the players.”

    Read: that the WACA can offer neither of those things.

    Of course, there’s been nothing official from Cricket Australia, whose boss James Sutherland was typically guarded during his own session with Whateley on the Test’s second day.

    Presumably, he didn’t want to further annoy Western Australian patriots. Dennis Lillee had already refused to attend the match, given his anger at how poorly things had panned out for the ground that defined his career’s brilliance.

    “I’m not going because I’ve had enough of the crap that’s gone on in the background to push the WACA into oblivion,” was the typically blunt statement from one of history’s top ten headband wearers.

    Others in the west who are (not always unreasonably) annoyed at perceptions of east-coast condescension or neglect may be mollified by the vague lure of future matches at the venue.

    The WACA scoreboard

    (Photo: Wiki Commons)

    But let’s be realistic. Sutherland’s thrown bone went as follows.

    “With two new countries coming into Test cricket, Afghanistan and Ireland, and the new one-day championship where there’s going to be 13 teams, there will from time to time be a fixture that says we play a lower-ranking team that might not draw as big a crowd.”

    All true. But let’s be realistic. If the new Perth Stadium is already getting Tests and ODIs against higher-ranking opponents, why would lower-profile games go to the same city?

    Even if they did, the national team would have the crowd-pulling clout to use the new ground, and most locals would prefer it. Why endure the discomfort of the outdated venue when you could enjoy the new?

    Or to take Whateley’s later summary: “They’ve spent two billion on that stadium, they’re going to use it.”

    Lastly, if a seriously low-drawing opponent came to visit, surely CA would take the chance to play in marginal venues like Canberra and Hobart, or on Top End adventures in Darwin or Cairns.

    The one suitable genre might be women’s internationals, given that the WACA managers have plans to downsize, and CA is keen on using smaller grounds like Coffs Harbour and North Sydney Oval.

    Fast and bouncy pitches are even more important in the women’s game, so a juiced-up WACA may be exactly the venue. The match there in 2013 was one of the best Tests played in the women’s game.

    But with the rate that the women’s cricket is expanding, it may not be long before crowds start hitting the 15,000 threshold that would bring the new stadium into play.

    Of course, we can appreciate the WACA for the memories it has left us and the richness it has added to the game’s history. In an ideal world, it would have been renovated properly and stayed with us into the future.

    But there’s no use pretending anymore. The relevant people have told us, even without telling us. Their track records have told us. The state government’s spending has told us. All those signs are clearer than actual words.

    The show, from thriller to comedy, is over. Test cricket at the WACA began in 1970 with a bang. It ended in 2017 with a wet patch.

    Geoff Lemon
    Geoff Lemon

    Geoff Lemon is a writer, editor and broadcaster covering sport for The Roar, The Guardian and ABC, as well as writing on politics, literature and history for a range of outlets.

    He tweets from @GeoffLemonSport.

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    The Crowd Says (30)

    • December 22nd 2017 @ 9:00am
      qwetzen said | December 22nd 2017 @ 9:00am | ! Report

      “The show, from thriller to comedy, is over. Test cricket at the WACA began in 1970 with a bang. It ended in 2017 with a wet patch”

      Actually, with the senility of the WACA pitches of late neither of those two is likely…

      Anyway. Yep, it’s logically unlikely that the WACA will employ two sets of ground staff so it’s farewell to the Lillee Marsh stand. Maybe. If the new one is also going to be an AFL ground, where are the WACA going to play the Shield final?

      Oh, and the new stadium looks just like a thousand other concrete and plastic coliseums.

    • December 22nd 2017 @ 9:26am
      Glen said | December 22nd 2017 @ 9:26am | ! Report

      Great comedic writing Geoff. Lots of laughs in that one.

      Wouldn’t the WACA be the ideal venue for the WA Shield and One day matches? Given those are lower drawing playing them at the new stadium would be overkill.

      • December 22nd 2017 @ 11:38am
        Jack Russell said | December 22nd 2017 @ 11:38am | ! Report

        I don’t think he’s saying the WACA will be demolished. Just that it won’t host a test match, or any signficant international match, again.

        However, there would be questions about a prime piece of real estate existing just to host games that draw 3 figure crowds. It wouldn’t surprise me if the WACA didn’t exist in 15 years.

      • December 23rd 2017 @ 8:45am
        Mitcher said | December 23rd 2017 @ 8:45am | ! Report

        Glen opens with that telegraph indication of mirth as if he’s setting himself up for the most thoroughly destructive take down the Internet has ever seen.

        Then makes a comment revealing he didn’t even understand the headline. ‘Test’ matches Glenwyn. ‘Test’ matches.

      • Columnist

        December 24th 2017 @ 2:56pm
        Geoff Lemon said | December 24th 2017 @ 2:56pm | ! Report

        Thanks Glen. They’ll keep the domestic stuff there, and use it as an Allan Border Field kind of training ground, given the stadium will have footy demands for much of the year. The BBL games are staying at the WACA for now, but if they keep selling it out, surely there’ll be a lure to try games at the big place.

    • December 22nd 2017 @ 9:26am
      Brainstrust said | December 22nd 2017 @ 9:26am | ! Report

      The new venue will not be run by cricket unlike every other test match cricket ground and will use drop in pitches.
      You don’t know what the fees will be to hire the ground.
      One of the reasons the Big Bash has lost so much money, is they can expanded it to two non cricket run grounds which also needed drop in pitches. The reason Sheffield Shield remains fairly economical is they use only the cricket grounds.
      A test match could be cast aside for concerts, and who knows what else.
      Crickets control of grounds puts it in an enviable position, and it has been very succesfull elsewhere in holding onto grounds while using the tax payer dollar to upgrade them. In this case its lost control, though it may well do like the AFL does and secure agreements that give it effective control during its season and low to zero rent. Even then the period it gets control will be much smaller than the AFL and could be just December to January.

      • December 22nd 2017 @ 9:56am
        Darren said | December 22nd 2017 @ 9:56am | ! Report

        Adelaide Oval is not run by cricket. It is run by the Stadium Management Authority which is independent of cricket and football. Don’t get too alarmist, if they get big crowds they will get the matches. It’s simple.

      • Columnist

        December 24th 2017 @ 2:58pm
        Geoff Lemon said | December 24th 2017 @ 2:58pm | ! Report

        Yep. And the WA government funded the stadium, and want the prestige of having regular marquee cricket there. They won’t throw that over to accommodate a Rolling Stones gig, they’ll work around competing bookings.

    • Roar Guru

      December 22nd 2017 @ 9:35am
      JamesH said | December 22nd 2017 @ 9:35am | ! Report

      Well, this is what happens when shiny new venues are more important that grounds with a bit of character. Not that CA has done anything to retain the character of the pitch in recent years, though.

    • December 22nd 2017 @ 10:11am
      Simon said | December 22nd 2017 @ 10:11am | ! Report

      Do we really want five perfectly circular stadiums built entirely from concrete and plastic that house drop in pitches as our test venues? No, but somehow that’s what we’ve got. And at a hefty price.

      • December 23rd 2017 @ 7:13am
        JohnB said | December 23rd 2017 @ 7:13am | ! Report

        The Gabba has a drop in pitch? I assume you’re not referring to the SCG as one of the 5.

        • December 23rd 2017 @ 9:04am
          JoM said | December 23rd 2017 @ 9:04am | ! Report

          No it doesn’t and neither does the SCG

    • December 22nd 2017 @ 11:15am
      paul said | December 22nd 2017 @ 11:15am | ! Report

      CA in some ways, is caught between a rock and a hard place in this issue. Obviously the WA Gov’t, who spent $2 billion on their shiny new stadium want some return and the current WACA ground is a poor relation in terms of facilities. If I was them, I’d do exactly what is happening at present, leave decisions about venues to a future date and see what happens with the maintenance and upkeep of the WACA. Lillee obviously thinks it’s going to be left to go down the sewer, so the decision about playing there might be an easy one.

      I for one found nothing funny in your attempts at humour, concerning Matt Page. Tell me what’s funny about a guy trying to do his job in seriously difficult conditions and ending up in hospital as a result, while you and your mates probably sat in a bar laughing about it?

      • Columnist

        December 24th 2017 @ 2:59pm
        Geoff Lemon said | December 24th 2017 @ 2:59pm | ! Report

        “Probably” = didn’t happen.

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